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Semiconductor and system design have never been more promising -- or more challenging. How can IC design companies find their way to sucess? At the Global Technology Conference (GTC) Aug. 30, three CEOs and one vice president gave their perspectives on the rapidly changing IC design and manufacturing ecosystem, and offered solutions for navigating the challenges of leading-edge design.
The panel was titled "Design Enablement Challenges and Future Solutions" and was moderated by Mojy Chian, senior vice president for design enablement at GLOBALFOUNDRIES. It followed a morning session in which GLOBALFOUNDRIES executives set forth the company's plans for 28nm and 20nm process nodes, as I described in an earlier blog post.
Panelists were as follows, shown left to right in the photo below. Mojy Chian is seated on the far right.
Chian opened the panel by noting that "over the past year, we are in exciting times. The demand profile of customers has changed, and the ecosystem has changed. In this panel we will look at the changing landscape in the foundry and design ecosystem and the relationships between foundry, customers, and IP." He added that "the major component of that change is the adoption of leading-edge technologies."
Below are some of the key points that were made, in roughly the order they were presented. I saved collaboration for the end because everybody had something to say about that.
The Rise of Application-Driven Design
Lip-Bu Tan: A huge change is taking place in the industry as applications drive design. Companies like Apple, Cisco, and Google are developing applications and are driving requirements for performance and power. Applications drive the design process, and then it's necessary to optimize the process node for power and die size. "This is why we are really excited about the EDA360 vision that we have for the industry."
How Semiconductors Can Offer Differentiated Value
Warren East: "Consumer products are driving innovation, but whether consumers are going to buy a product because of the silicon is a hard call. The OS is much more visible to the consumer. However, the company that builds the product really does see the difference between different pieces of silicon. We have to work with foundries to create differentiated pieces of silicon that manufacturers are going to choose, and we have to work with software and OS vendors."
Is Consumer Mobility the Driver for Process Technology?
Aart de Geus: No, process technology has been driven primarily by the hard-wired processor segment, but the mobile world is bringing a new level of complexity. "The mobile world and the cloud world are driving the same thing from opposite poles. The mobile world wants as much performance as possible for less power. The hard-wired world is already at maximum performance, and now they're trying to minimize power."
The Problem With Analog Design
Robert Hum: The basic analog abstraction is a BSIM model of your transistor. Most silicon today has interfaces to the real world, but the analog circuits are "still designed the old way, productivity hasn't moved very much, and design methodology hasn't changed. We have to figure out what we can do for analog design."
Lip-Bu Tan: Mixed-signal SoCs are extremely complex. "The moment you put it together it's a nightmare. It's not 1s and 0s, it's a lot of black magic, and you have to do things differently. That comes with experience and good analog designers are hard to find."
How Can We Overcome Impediments to Leading-Edge Design?
Warren East: Companies have to work together. As noted in GTC presentations, GLOBALFOUNDRIES and ARM created test vehicles using Cortex processors. With this two-way collaboration, "the development of the process happens concurrently with the physical IP. It then turns into products like the ARM Processor Optimization packages."
Why 20nm Is Like a Very Upscale Restaurant
Aart de Geus: When you get a table for 8 people at a restaurant, all the food arrives at roughly the same time. That's the problem at 20nm. You need to have the IP, the tools, the fab technology and capacity, and the packaging all ready at the same time. "We are running a really sophisticated restaurant and our kitchen costs several billion dollars, so let's make sure the food is good."
Warren East: "Remember that the cooks are there at 8:00 am and are doing a lot of prep behind the scenes."
A Cautious Move to the Cloud
Robert Hum: Cloud computing is a way of accessing compute cycles without having to worry about IT. It's a way of providing access to powerful tools.
Lip-Bu Tan: "I'm a big fan of the cloud, but the problem our customers face is security, it's how to protect your IP and design data. We are moving cautiously."
Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration
Aart de Geus: "Success is not the sum of our efforts, it is the product of our efforts. If there is a single zero everybody gets a zero." Systemic collaboration is the key enabler going forward.
Robert Hum: "We need alignment across the industry. We will have to find ways to deepen the work we do together. Specialization is increasing and we have to make sure we interface properly."
Lip-Bu Tan: The most important thing about collaboration is that the customer wins. "I like vertical collaboration, where we have a specific customer with a specific need, and we work closely with them." Cadence is also contributing to the broader industry, and an example is the decision to open the OpenAccess database.
Warren East: "Vertical collaboration is the kind of thing we do together. There are times when horizontal collaboration is necessary as well, but it is harder to do because it's a more competitive thing." ARM launched the Linaro OS initiative with a group of competing companies, a "very difficult task indeed." Yet if work can be shared, everybody benefits.
The one-day GTC conference also featured morning keynote speeches from GLOBALFOUNDRIES executives, an afternoon panel on "mainstream" process nodes, and EDA vendor tracks including a 20nm presentation by Cadence. The well-attended CEO panel helped put the conference's technical content into a broader industry context.
Photo by Joe Hupcey III